Hughes home in San Antonio’s Tobin Hill saved from demolition by chef Weissman, investor Chu

The Hughes home in Tobin Hill, which was once on the path toward demolition, has been purchased by chef Andrew Weissman and preservationist May Chu, who plan to convert the first floor into a wine-and-cheese bar.

click to enlarge May Chu (left) and Andrew Weissman exit the Hughes home in Tobin Hill, which the business partners purchased on Wednesday. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
May Chu (left) and Andrew Weissman exit the Hughes home in Tobin Hill, which the business partners purchased on Wednesday.
The circa-1913 Hughes home in Tobin Hill, which was once on the path toward demolition, has been purchased by chef Andrew Weissman and a preservationist named May Chu, who plan to convert the first floor into a wine-and-cheese bar sometime this year. 

The previous owner, the Archdiocese of San Antonio, had proposed demolishing the home, 312 W. Courtland Place, which for decades had served as the Catholic Student Center for neighboring San Antonio College. After learning about the demolition request to the city last year, The Conservation Society of San Antonio, members of the Tobin Hill Community Association, and other preservationists began a public awareness campaign in an attempt to slow down the process. It worked, and their efforts led to the purchase this week by Weissman and Chu, who met just a month ago through the society.

Chu and Weissman said they were both moved to action by the prospect of the structure being razed, and by the Conservation Society’s efforts to save the childhood home of Russell Hughes, who later became a famous dancer in the 1920s and 1930s under the stage name “La Meri.”

click to enlarge Weissman and Chu speak to preservationists at the Hughes home Friday morning. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
Weissman and Chu speak to preservationists at the Hughes home Friday morning.
The home includes four fireplaces, as well as two upper floors and a basement.

“At this point, we’re going to preserve the home, address the things that need to be addressed, and then do an expanded wine-and-cheese bar where it could almost be a community gathering space for Monte Vista and Tobin Hill and surrounding areas,” said Weissman, a James Beard Award nominated chef. “And with what’s happening across the street, I think it will dovetail quite nicely.”

[Check out the San Antonio Current's slideshow of the Hughes home.]

The Hughes home sits across from the 120-year-old Koehler House, which Weston Urban had planned to purchase from San Antonio College, and convert it into a hotel with a restaurant—although it’s unclear whether that deal has closed. The three-story mansion was built in 1901 by Otto Koehler, president of the Pearl Brewing Company.

Chu and Weissman, who chose not to disclose the purchase price, will likely incorporate the porch and front yard as part of the wine-and-cheese bar. Weissman said a wine and cheese concept makes the most sense for the home because a kitchen is not needed. “We want to be true to the house,” he said. They said they don’t yet have plans for the basement or upper two floors.

click to enlarge Another of the Hughes home’s fireplaces. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
Another of the Hughes home’s fireplaces.

Weissman and Chu will need to get a variance from the city to sell alcohol because of its proximity to Temple Beth El, where students from Great Hearts Monte Vista South attend school during the week. It will also have to be rezoned. 

Chu became aware of the imminent demolition from a blog post written by Vincent Michael, executive director of the Conservation Society, about the Hughes. Then, Chu reached out to Michael who put her in touch with Weissman, who had also expressed interest in purchasing the home.

During a gathering at the home Friday morning, Chu suggested the upper floors could be used as space for lectures on the preservation of old homes. The rest of the home provides many possibilities, Chu said. 

“We’re open to ideas,” said Chu, who lives in San Antonio, and who also runs a building inspection company in New York City. “Nothing in stone, yet.”

Vincent said the Hughes home is a classic example of the community coming together to save an endangered building of historic significance.

“We kept saying: ‘Test it on the market. Put it on the market and see if someone wants to buy it and restore it’,” Michael recalls the society saying to the Archdiocese of San Antonio. “And, sure enough, we helped identify some people who did want to buy it and restore it, and now we’re here.”

click to enlarge One of the four fireplaces inside the Hughes house. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
One of the four fireplaces inside the Hughes house.
click to enlarge Preservationists take photos of Weissman and Chu. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
Preservationists take photos of Weissman and Chu.
click to enlarge The front room of the Hughes homes. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
The front room of the Hughes homes.
click to enlarge Another room inside the Hughes home. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
Another room inside the Hughes home.
A biography of “La Meri,” the stage name for the famous dancer Russell Hughes, who grew up in the home, sits on a mantle. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
A biography of “La Meri,” the stage name for the famous dancer Russell Hughes, who grew up in the home, sits on a mantle.

click to enlarge Frederica Kusher, chair of the historic preservation committee at the Tobin Hill Community Association, checks out one of the home’s sliding doors. - SAN ANTONIO HERON / BEN OLIVO
San Antonio Heron / Ben Olivo
Frederica Kusher, chair of the historic preservation committee at the Tobin Hill Community Association, checks out one of the home’s sliding doors.
Heron Editor Ben Olivo has been writing about downtown San Antonio since 2008, first for mySA.com, then for the San Antonio Express-News. He co-founded the Heron in 2018, and can be reached at (210) 421-3932 | [email protected] | @rbolivo on Twitter

This story was originally published by the San Antonio Heron, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to informing its readers about the changes to downtown and the surrounding communities.

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